Tagged: Death metal

Maniacal Meditations: extreme death metal invades microtonal realms

Last Sacrament, Maniacal Meditations
Last Sacrament, Maniacal Meditations, Microtonal Records, cassette MR003 (2011)

In my immediate previous review (Jute Gyte’s “Discontinuities”), I mentioned that JG man Adam Kalmbach used a guitar that had been retro-fitted to accommodate a 24-tone scale by Ron Sword who happens to be guitarist for a Florida death metal Last Sacrament. This band uses a 16-tone scale to play its particular brand of extreme precise death metal. At this time of writing, Last Sacrament had only this demo release to their name; a full-length album “Enantiodromia” is in the works with a release any day now.

On first hearing, the 4-song set appears no different from most maniac death metal – probably because my ears have heard a fair amount of microtonal music in the past so the quirky aspect is lost on me and much of what I hear is deep slurping swamp-monster vocals, militaristic blastbeats and grinding bass against a steely cavernous background. On second hearing though, the difference becomes apparent: it’s in the band’s sound which is deep and oily, and in the dream-deranged chaos of the lead guitar breaks.

“Emergence of Opposites” can be a fairly flowing track with near-flighty percussion breaks and squalling lead guitar that literally takes listeners into another sonic dimension. “Self-Deceit” is slower and for its first half unremarkable DM; it’s only when we reach the lead guitar instrumental that once again we’re whacked clean round the bend with other-worldly flighty guitar melodies. Oftentimes these sound more like analog synthesisers or special effects cooked up in the past by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for old Doctor Who TV programs.

“Tyrants of Pain” features extended passages of flowing yet demented screaming guitar trills and tones that wash and flush out the brain cells like nothing I’ve ever heard before and will probably never hear again. “Post Human” sees the band lifting its game for one last shot of lavaging those quivering synapses: crunchy bass rhythms and insane nuclear-powered percussion go all-out to support the lead guitar which now flies around the shop like a posssessed demon pursued by other possessed demons whenever chance permits.

I suppose this being the band’s first release, “Maniacal Meditations” needs to err on the conservative side and let everyone know that this is a death metal recording first and foremost and experimental music second. For the most part the innovative aspects are kept strictly on the leash and are let out now and again but only for short periods. The lead guitar does its whirling-dervish dance at some distance far in the mix on most songs: I do not know if this was intentional or just a quirk the musicians hadn’t anticipated. The level of musicianship is consistent, precise and very much what should be expected of technical death metal. Likewise, the lyrics aren’t out of the ordinary for death metal, dwelling on humanity’s failure to safeguard its freedoms and prevent its fall into enslavement followed by society collapse and planetary apocalypse.

Even so, a track like “Tyrants of Pain” demonstrates in a couple of short instrumental passages the potential for extreme microtonal death metal to race off in the exotic outer-realms of hell, space or other virtual dimensions. I’d like to see these guys adopt a far more improvisational and experimental approach in their music so that they can bring out the full potential of microtonal music in an extreme metal setting.

Contact: Last Sacrament

Muknal (self-titled): herald of evil and disturbing forces from the far ends of the cosmos

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Muknal, self-titled, Crepusculo Negro, cassette CN-22 (2012)

(Note: At this time of writing the EP’s third pressing of 300 copies had already sold out!)

At just over 17 minutes in length, this self-titled EP by the US band Muknal sure packs in heckuva load of black / death metal punch. This band is surely onto something deeply dark and evil here from the get-go: the music has a sick and disturbing feel and seems to come from the far reaches of the cosmos where time began. Muknal is one of a group of Californian black / death metal acts known as the Black Twilight Circle, many of whose members espouse Mexican nationalism and are keen students of Aztec and Mayan cultures and traditions. The bands issue their music on tape through several labels, the most notable of which is Crepusculo Negro.

As the EP goes so fast and it’s so short, the three songs that feature can be heard as one long work. “Cruciation” sounds like the soundtrack to an invasion of Earth if ever the aliens want something to celebrate and remember their victory for ever more: rhythm guitar and percussion push on in a steady advance while lead guitar spits out ghastly death rays of heat, each of which melts down entire fleets of planes and flotillas of ships in seconds flat. The aliens’ triumph comes in a matter of minutes. The next track “Rotten Genesis” is a varied piece for its size: starting out slow, steady and a bit stodgy, it quickly transforms into a mix of fast and slow music shot through with zinging blasts of extra-terrestrial lead guitar feedback.

The atmosphere is the stand-out feature of the EP: it’s unearthly and gives an impression of a huge universe, endlessly expansive, yet indifferent and most likely hostile to the evolution and presence of human beings. Dark forces emanate from the universe’s farthest corners to attack Earth and seek out and destroy us humans.

The tracks aren’t greatly different from one another although the first song is quite good for its full-on attack and atmospherics in its first minute. The third track “Eidolon” sometimes has quite complex and changeable rhythms and beats, and it piles on ever more suffocating intensity with furious fast-paced percussion workouts, blats of lead guitar and a howling demonic vocal overhead.

The songs feel incomplete, being so short, and a few extra minutes on each of them with extra lyrics might have bulked them up. As they are, the lyrics are very brief and general and vaguely describe spiritual and occult desecration and extreme violence: not much to see here, let’s move along. The vocals are filthy and sound reptilian. The EP actually could do with a slightly more murky, gargly and muddy sound.

Overall the music is energetic, often intense and most of the time very out of this world. The evil it calls our attention to is vast and unfathomable and while we can fuss about preparing to defend ourselves, this evil will surely defeat and obliterate us – it’s just a matter of time.

By the way folks, if you hear news of strange rumblings beneath the ground and oceans, and of people and buildings disappearing suddenly in giant sinkholes like the one that took that poor guy at home in Florida (some folks must have been praying to the Angel of Death to take George W Bush’s brother Jeb but the grim reaper must be hard of hearing with all the  supplications he receives from across the world to take out one politician or another as he took one Jeff Bush instead), that must be due to the awakenings of the hordes of the Dark Lord Cthulhu beneath the Earth’s crust in preparation to do battle with the Elder Gods coming here from the far ends of the cosmos. We have been warned!

Contact: Crepusculo Negro

"Strange yet familiar glyphs and sigils combined with a riot of decorative symbols and hieroglyphic designs..."

Aethyrvorous (self-titled demo): an intense and deeply committed immersion in the black art

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Aethyrvorous, self-titled, self-released cassette tape (2009)

While looking at something else on Youtube.com, I glanced to the right-hand side of the screen (where the list of other viewing options is located) and saw that a demo by a band rejoicing in the wonderful name of Aethyrvorous (it just looks so good, I don’t even stoop to think what aethyrs are that the musicians are so enthusiastic about eating them) had been uploaded in three parts so as you do, I decided to check the band out. (Aethyrs are a kind of spirit referred to in some gnostic forms and systems of knowledge.) This self-titled three-song demo turns out to be an unholy behemoth of heavy blackened death metal with lightning-fast lead guitar licks that  illuminate the silhouette of the monstrous mammoth that is the band’s style. Sad to see then, that this demo is the only recorded proof of the band’s existence as the guys split some time after the recording was made and aren’t planning a reunion for old times’ sake. A full-length album, even if just a ragbag compilation of singles, rehearsals, out-takes and live performances, would have been icing on a huge cake.

Ain’t nothing like a bit of throat singing, guttural chanting and groaning, and some droning Tibetan-style monastic music to set off proceedings. After some deep meditative music on the emptiness and unreality of life and the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth, the band launches straight into a tortuous journey of thundering, stuttering drum rhythms inter-twined with scrabbly guitar and tormented roaring vocals. In some ways this music is reminiscent of Deathspell Omega in atmosphere and its tortured quality. Voices gabble and rage at each other while riffs launch desperately into the air but can barely complete their trajectories before being pulled back to earth. Solo lead guitar howls with a thin tone as if losing the fight for life. Unfortunately this track ends all too quickly. Track II picks up the pace and fury with a short introduction of blaring horns and cow-bells that lead into a frantic song of overworked choppy guitar licks, hurried drumming and what sounds like musings of deep-voiced demons unconcerned with keeping up with the sometimes cacophonous music.

Track III is a mighty death swamp beast that changes beat and rhythm at lightning speed throughout while lead guitar spasmodically sputters and squeals in the midst of a grimy seaweed-crowned lagoon monster aesthetic. Rhythm guitars trail thick sludgy magma. Towards the end the lead guitar forgets itself and dives into a deranged whoop of trembling flutter and high-flying howl. The rhythm changes yet again and falls into something thick, slurpy and serpentine as drum rolls and crashing cymbals duel with each other and guitars growl continuously. As usual, the vocals have little to do with the music and for all I know might be declaiming something important in the thousand-year history of Satanic philosophy; that could explain why our ears must be constantly slugged with the black bile the demon vocalist vomits and spews.

By all that’s unholy, at the risk of damaging my sanity from exposure to this particular example of profane black art, I wish this demo had been TEN TIMES as long – oh all right, let’s say at least THREE TIMES as long – as it is: the 23-minute running time simply doesn’t do justice to the variety of music featured in these tracks, especially in Track III. The music is positively reptilian and as cold-bloodedly malevolent as it can achieve without freezing over into something resembling the ninth and lowest part of Hell where Satan is encased in ice. The sampled recordings of Tibetan religious music set the scene for all three tracks and put the guys into the appropriate frame of mind to deliver genuinely sinister and creepy music that resembles a hulking, guttural, grime-encrusted giant from the miasmic deeps.

The most impressive aspect of Aethyrvorous’s short demo is its intensity and deep immersion in the esoteric and this is reflected in the artwork of the cassette tape cover: overly detailed filigree work portraying mysterious mythical monsters bearing aloft a structure of strange yet familiar glyphs and sigils combined with a riot of decorative symbols and hieroglyphic designs. The only other band whose absorption into the occult seems as intense and complex as Aethyrvorous’s total submersion is fellow Australian act Elysian Blaze. (Now isn’t that intriguing to know, that two Australian acts in different cities appear to have reached such a deep level of commitment to the black arts and no-one else has?)

Most readers will be able to find the demo by visiting Youtube.com and typing the band’s name into the search field. Quite a few people have uploaded all three tracks there and have also posted pictures of the artwork. Neither the band nor its individual members – well heck, I’m not even sure if there had been just the one person or a few people in the band – appears to have a Facebook / Twitter / MySpace or bandcamp page.

EHNAHRE 023

Old Earth: four-part opus doesn’t quite satisfy as jazz / death metal chamber music piece

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Ehnahre, Old Earth, Crucial Blast, CD CBR99 (2011)

Ehnahre are new to me but this trio from Boston, Massachusetts, has been active since 2008 when they released their debut full-length album. These guys play an unstructured and doom-influenced style of death metal that’s very close to heavy improv jazz. “Old Earth” is the group’s third album and is based on a short essay by 20th century Irish avant-garde writer Samuel Beckett. The album consists of one piece broken up into four tracks or movements and by that structure derives as much of its inspiration from forms of classical and chamber music as it does from jazz, doom, hardcore and death metal. Guest musicians include trumpet players Greg Kelley and Forbes Graham, and the ever-trusty eminence grise studio engineer and sometime musician James Plotkin turns up on mastering duties. The guys sometimes come across as sounding a bit like Japan’s slow-burning doomsters Corrupted mixed in with some of their more extreme jazz / improv / metal brethren like Boredoms, Fushitsusha and Ruins.

After a warm-up introduction which includes something that sounds like a distant radio recording of a singer followed by a forlorn piano melody, the threesome play some very quiet guitar and noodle about for several minutes. At the half-way point, the track finally explodes into some fiery spitfire jazz death metal separated by passages of sulky guitar meditations. A haggard death metal vocal yells out lyrics based on the Beckett text while bass guitar surges forward on long booming drone, drums keep busy on fast rhythms and guitars either follow the bass guitar.

The second movement is a mood piece that privileges a chamber music style with the use of double bass as a solo instrument in parts. The clear production on this track underlines the decision to play the track as an acoustic piece. With the solo double bass followed by solo electric guitar, the track appears disjointed and the momentum built up by the first movement is lost. Late in the track, Kelley and Graham join in on trumpets but their performance is very subsidiary to the lead guitar and listeners could query whether the guest musicians are really needed at all.

Doomy death metal credibility is regained in the third movement but at this point I wonder why Ehnahre risked doing a long second piece that takes away all the energy and aggression of the first movement only to have to claw it all back in the third. By the time we reach Track 3, we are two-thirds of the way through the album. After a short, edgy piece marked by stealthy rhythm, the fourth movement comes as a dive into an existential inferno with the main vocalist screaming in torment.

This is an interesting album but the music is very uneven: the first two movements are long, each well over ten minutes, while the last two pieces fit entirely into the running-time of Track 1. You’d normally expect the third movement to be very important because in a four-movement work, the third must build on the efforts of the previous two movements in intensity and tension to a gut-wrenching climax; the fourth movement deals with the climax itself and the consequences that follow, and then it would just tidy all the loose ends and clean up the splatter on the floor and walls. We don’t get anything of the sort here on “Old Earth”. The flow of tension and energy across the album is uneven: the first movement did well in building up that tension but the second track lost it. This means that the third track has the unenviable job of performing its traditional function plus pick up that tension and conflict in the space of five minutes! “Old Earth” ends up being a lesser album than it could have been. There is not one God-Almighty tension-releasing pyrotechnics display anywhere here: the recording is more or less low-key throughout. Your listening experience will be an intriguing one at times but it’ll also be frustrating.

As a metal album, “Old Earth” certainly proves there’s plenty of life in doom and death metal when they come into contact with avant-garde jazz. It’s a bit of a shame though that Ehnahre seem too enamoured with the idea of playing with the structure of the music to upset expectations of how music builds up to a climax and then comes down, and somewhere in the middle lets go of some tension before climbing up again. Sometimes there are things you just should not deconstruct just for the hell of it, even with unstructured and out-there music.

Contact: Crucial Blast Recordings

A Collection of Depravation: hilarious splatter from sicko Swedish surgeons


General Surgery, A Collection of Depravation, Relapse Records, CD (2012)

For those who don’t yet know, General Surgery is a Swedish band that traffics in the gore grind metal pioneered about twenty years ago by the UK band Carcass. “A Collection of Depravation” (sic) gathers up various split recordings, B-sides, demos and unreleased session jams that General Surgery has made since 2003 when the band reformed after a decade-long hiatus. The sicko Swedes even include a homage / rip-off cover of a Carcass song. Looking at the CD booklet is an experience in itself – 30 songs on the one disc, you gasp?! – fear not , most songs are short and sweet (erm …) and the whole shebang is over in about 66 minutes. Novice GS listeners should listen to the whole album in one go, as though the disk were just a one-tracker: the songs speed by quickly and if you sneeze, you’ll miss one whole track.

The first eight tracks are from a 2003 split recording with The County Medical Examiners, a similar Carcass wannabe band: the songs are short and GS rips through them at blistering speed. The execution is very exact, resulting in a hugely dense and dirty sound that careens all over the place with spurts of melody and spasms of pounding drums. The production is murky so the whole recording has a layer of filth. Usually there are two sets of slobbery vocals with a deep guttural set dominating a slightly higher but equally glucky voice.

Next are four tracks from the 2004 split recording with Australian death metal band Filth: the delivery is sharper and the sound is cleaner if thinner but at least the very brief lead guitar solos gush out in excess microbacteriologically pullulating frenzy. The drums don’t thump so hard but the thin production may be to blame; even the vocals are less dense and menacing than on the previous split. A couple of tracks are literally blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em, lasting only a few minutes each before they’re consigned to the hospital incinerator. Step up the split recording with Spanish band Machetazo, recorded the same year as the Filth split. The songs are even faster and shorter than on the split with Filth. One track delights in the glorious title “Viva! Blunt Force Trauma” which would be a great band name if it hasn’t been taken already. Pity the sound quality means the actual song itself doesn’t quite live up to what it promises though the band tries its hardest and punkiest.

Lone track “Fulguration” demonstrates that the good doctors know a rock’n’roll groove when they meet one and include it among their scalpels and lancets. A couple of tracks from the “Left Hand Pathology” sessions show the GS guys in casualty-ward mode: raw and grindingly rough around the edges. Skip a couple of years and we come to another split, this time with Butcher ABC: the boys display a sense of macabre theatre in delivery and melody with sinister death metal riffing. The songs are as fast as ever though and retain a punky spirit. Vocals differ from what they have been on previous recordings: a bit clearer, more upfront in the mix and more confident to the extent that the vocal lines depart quite a bit from the music and stand out.

We arrive at the songs recorded during the “Corpus in Extremis: Analysing Necrocriticism” sessions but not included on the actual album. The band’s style is a little slower and more structured with more melody; you could definitely say these guys have become a death metal band. “Nephroblastoma” again shows GS is capable of getting into a real rocking rhythm groove before the guys fly off on blastbeat attacks. You sometimes wish these fellas could include a bit more catchy rhythm and the occasional lead guitar solo in their music as they do on this track. GS finish up with a Carcass cover “Empathological Necroticism” which is not greatly different from the Carcass original in execution.

The GS guys are good musicians who work as a tight unit very well and they display flashes of rock’n’roll inspiration and originality. Occasionally I think it’d be nice if GS did something really out of the ordinary that even Carcass couldn’t have done, something like actually simulate somebody screaming when his anaesthesia wears off during the illegal kidney removal or pretend they’ve run out of equipment and all they’ve got is the good old Black and Decker drill for that necessary lobotomy but if the musicians elect to be Carcass clones (circa the “Reek of Putrefaction” debut album back in 1989) and are content with that, then I’m happy for them.

There was a reason that Carcass gave up churning out gore grind metal and became a straightforward melodic death metal band in the first place: writing and performing this kind of music forever is a bit childish and silly and I’m sure it was intended as a satirical comment  on Western consumerism and society. Perhaps this is what separates Carcass and their emulators like GS.

Contact: Relapse Records